Euro 2012: The last four standing
The stage is set for an exciting finish for the Euro 2012 as the last-four line-up is complete after a tense match between England and Italy, which stretched to the penalty shoot-out. Deservedly, the Azzurri prevailed in the contest to knock England out of the championship.
• Also read: Why Spain will reach Euro final»
Here is a brief overview of the teams that will fight it out for place in the final for the Henri Delaunay Cup at Kyiv`s Olympic Stadium on Sunday (1 July).
1st semifinal: Spain vs Portugal @ Donetsk
Holders Spain will eye the top prize in European football to become the first team to win three consecutive major tournaments. But they will have to do it by overwhelming a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal. Going by their key player’s current form, Seleccao will have to worry little. In the last two matches, Ronaldo has managed to find the net thrice. After two goalless efforts in the first two games, he scored Portugal’s both goals in 2-1 victory against Netherlands. The Dutch nosed ahead in the 11th minute through Rafael van der Vaart. Soon, Joao Pereira capitalized on Willems error in the defence and passed it on to Ronaldo who beat Maarten Stekelenburg to equalize in the 28th minute. He added another in the 78th to send the Dutch home as they picked their third defeat in as many games. In the quarterfinals, they staved off Czech resistance by a 79th-minute winner from Cristiano. He headed in Joao Moutinho`s cross with 11 minutes left after the Czechs threatened to prolong the game till extra time with a solid defence.
World champions topped the group which posed less threat barring a resurgent Italian side. However, they couldn’t beat the Italians in the first group game. With a striker-less formation, Cesc Frabregas, deployed the false number nine, Vicente del Bosque`s men did sweat a lot to find an equalizer against a stiff Italian resistance. Interestingly, that was the only lapse in the Azzurri defense line. Fabregas didn’t hesitate a bit before slotting in a Silva cross from close range. Fernando Torres rediscovering his goal-scoring agility was the highlight against Ireland in a high-scoring affair. Torres was on back of a poor season at Chelsea and a repeat of the same in Spanish colours was something the team wasn’t keen on. Apart from Torres, Silva and Fábregas too scored in the team’s 4-0 victory in their second game of the tournament. That followed a 1-0 victory against Croatia in their last group fixture thanks to late goal from substitute Jesús Navas. After the double against Ireland, Torres was hungry for more but it was Xabi Alonso’s day in the quarter-final victory against a lacklustre France.
2nd semifinal: Germany vs Italy @ Warsaw
One of the favourites to win the Euro 2012 title, Germany have not been beaten in an international competition since the FIFA World Cup semi-final loss to Spain on 7 July 2010 in Durban. It includes the subsequent third-place play-off victory against Uruguay, an entire UEFA European Championship qualifying campaign and four wins in Poland and Ukraine. Joachim Löw’s men are the only team in the current championship to secure wins in all the matches played. The 4-2 triumph against Greece in the quarterfinals meant Germany have completed their 15th successive competitive victory, which is a world record. There is no short of match winners in the German squad but the Real Madrid midfielder Mesut Özil is the one name that stands out from the rest. Though, Özil is yet to step up with a goal-scoring performance in the on-going tournament, the 23-year-old has contributed to team’s goals with his slick passes. It will be a matter of time before he comes up with a match-winner.
Italy, on the other side, are a team on the rise and with focus on ball possession, Prandelli has opted not to play the usual `the Italian way’. They finished second in Group C behind Spain ahead of Croatia and Ireland. In the quarterfinals, Andrea Pirlo scored with chipped penalty dubbed as "Panenka" penalty kick in the shoot-out to bring Italy level at 2-2. That goal, however, paved the way for an Italian 4-2 victory and they deserved it. Not just that penalty, Pirlo was at the centre of most of Azzurris’ goal attempts. He dictated the tempo of the game from deep with short, sideways passes. However, they failed to score partly because of a strong England defense and partly due to Italians’ wastefulness. Cesare Prandelli’s men displayed their best game in the tournament on Sunday but will have to fine tune their finishing if they wish to challenge the record-breaking Germans in the semifinals. The Italian side was on the verge of pulling out of the tournament after a vast betting and match-fixing scandal that involves 21 mostly lower league clubs broke out. Italian police arrested 19 alleged conspirators, including the Lazio captain, Stefano Mauri. Domenico Criscito was dropped from the Italy squad after being questioned at the team’s Coverciano training base. However, that doesn’t put them in an unfamiliar position as the Italians are known to pull up their socks and deliver when they are in such situations. The 2006 and 1982 World Cup titles came amid such turmoil.